For the past eight years, Detroit manager Jim Leyland has served the Tigers well. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Jim Leyland leaves the game of baseball not with the walk-off home run Tigers fans had hoped for, nor did he go down swinging at bad pitches. Instead, Leyland will be remembered as a stand-up guy who poured his heart into the game and gave his best every day. The Tigers’ manager announced his retirement Monday after a disappointing American League Championship Series in which his team failed to advance to the World Series.
In his eight years as manager of the team, Leyland helped take the Tigers from a hapless loser to a consistent contender. Under his leadership, the team became among the elite of baseball. He never won a World Series with the Tigers, but they won the Central Division pennant each of the past three years and he took the Tigers to the series twice in his tenure. Leyland was able to get some of the best — and best paid — athletes in baseball to work together and sacrifice for the good of the team. He is a true Tiger, starting his career with the organization as a minor league catcher in 1963. He stayed with the team as a minor league coach before taking over as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986, a stint that lasted 10 years.
He coached the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins before returning to the Detroit club in 2005. In 1997, Leyland led the Marlins to a World Series victory, working with a younger Dave Dombrowski, now the Tigers general manager. Leyland made baseball exciting again for Detroit fans. His teams have been fun to watch, and they’ve filled Comerica Park with attendance of more than three million in recent years.
His modest, soft-spoken style reflected a manager who never felt he was bigger than the team or his players. He was capable of splitting the ears of an umpire, but for the most part Leyland took the ups and downs of the game in stride, never losing faith in himself or his team. His players loved and respected him. He gave the team stability after the revolving managerial doors of the post-Sparky Anderson period. Mostly, the skipper has been a good guy to have around. Tigers fans will soon forget the disappointment of the ALCS.
When they do, Jim Leyland’s name will be mentioned along with Hughie Jennings, Mayo Smith, Billy Martin, Anderson and other memorable Tigers managers. We wish him a long and healthy retirement.